Spell check

***This week I’m starting a series of posts that are responses to specific (and common) questions or concerns I’ve heard from parents.  I thought I’d start with spelling!

Q: My child doesn’t spell well and I don’t know whether I should let her write on the computer and use spell check.  I don’t want it to be a crutch that allows her not to learn to spell at all. Should I let her use it, or should I make her wait until she can spell better on her own?

My response:  The thing about spell check is that it makes a big difference how it’s used.  When used responsibly, it can actually help a person get better at spelling.

If you let it do your spelling for you – just typing along without paying attention to the substitutions and corrections it’s making, you’re likely to stay the same speller you’ve always been.  And you’ll likely embarrass yourself eventually with something spell check did to your writing that you didn’t notice. This happens to adults quite often.

The alternative is to let spell check support spelling. This approach will not only decrease the incidence of potentially embarrassing errors, it can also actually help a person improve their spelling.  If you show your daughter that she can watch what spell check does when it has an objection to something she’s typed, her awareness of how things are spelled will increase, her familiarity with the spellings of various words will increase, and she’ll grow more confident in her ability to notice when something’s off.

Spell check has the reputation for being a substitute for thinking, and if a person really wants to get out of thinking it’s hard to stop them from using it that way.  But most kids I know who use spell check as a support mechanism (rather than as a substitute for thinking) seem to feel more confident knowing that they’re getting better by using it this way.  They also like feeling as though they’re not out there on their own – they have a useful tool on their side.  They also tend to be more courageous with their word choice because they know they can figure out how to spell things they may otherwise steer clear of…